Bicycles: helmets really do provide protection!

A few months ago it was made compulsory for all French children under twelve to wear a helmet when on a bicycle. The decision was made on the basis of several scientific studies, including one by IFSTTAR, whose main finding was that wearing a helmet when cycling reduces the risk of serious head injuries by 70%. Let’s take a closer look at some conclusive results.

On 22 March 2017, France issued a decree that made it compulsory for children under the age of 12 on bicycles to wear a helmet if they are the rider or a passenger in a child seat.  This is a step in the right direction. For those who are still not sure: yes, helmets really do protect children! Here is the proof, provided by scientific studies…


Already in 2012, the first epidemiological study conducted in France on the topic was unequivocal. Based on 8,373 cyclists1 who sustained injuries between 1998 and 2008, it showed that 90% of those with head injuries were not wearing a helmet...

But above all, our study concluded that helmets reduce the risk of serious head injuries by 70%, the risk of minor injuries by 31% and facial injuries by 28%.

reports Emmanuelle Amoros, a researcher at IFSTTAR’s Lyon-based laboratory UMRESTTE.

In 2016, the French findings were confirmed by an international meta-analysis of forty studies. This took in 64,000 injured cyclists and concluded that wearing a helmet reduces the risk of serious head injuries by 69 % and the risk of facial injuries by 33 % - findings which are almost identical to those of the 2012 French study!


Helmets are already compulsory for everyone in some countries.

But the fact that it is compulsory to wear a helmet under 12 years of age does not mean the risk of head injuries is higher among this age group! This is shown by the fact that some countries, for example Finland, have already made helmets mandatory for cyclists of all ages. This measure nevertheless bears the risk that it will discourage some people from cycling, as has been observed in Australia, for example. But without going this far, a number of other measures could be considered.

In a report published in 2014, the Conseil National de la Sécurité Routière (National Road Safety Committee), Emmanuelle Amoros and her colleagues made a number of recommendations. These included compulsory helmet wearing for those using a bicycle in a professional capacity (e.g.: couriers, postmen and postwomen) and those riding electric bicycles, installing helmet distributors at self-service bicycle stations, or increasing mileage allowances and reducing insurance premiums for helmet wearers.

Of course, there is no reason why wearing a helmet should not be combined with the multitude of innovative protection devices that are currently being developed: a lighting system that casts an illuminated silhouette of a bicycle onto the carriageway, new bicycle horns that are as loud as the ones in cars, luminous helmets, indicators that are operated from the handlebars, etc. But for Emmanuelle Amoros, before proving the effectiveness of these innovations we should apply the law that makes lighting compulsory for bicycles at night. The researcher regrets that “one of our studies has shown that only 60% of cyclists obey this law, giving the following main reasons: their bicycle lights do not work well, they had left them at home, or had them stolen”.

Making lighting effective and non-removable would be a good first measure, but until then … wear a helmet!


1. Identified thanks to the Rhône Département Register of Road Traffic Accident Casualties, which is a scientific instrument set up by UMRESTTE with the Département’s public and private hospitals and the only one of its kind in France.